Internationally known vocal coach shares wealth of knowledge with Elon music students

Cristiano Manzoni, an award-winning, internationally known accompanist and vocal coach, is teaching a course about the interpretation of Italian vocal music at Elon during Winter Term 2020.

Powerful voices fill Whitley Auditorium and ring out into the surrounding quad. It’s the sound of traditional Italian opera pieces performed by Elon music and performing arts students. They sing along to a piano, played by a self-proclaimed “very intense” voice coach.

“If you mess up like one vowel, he’s on it,” said Janelle Deal ’21.

For award-winning, internationally known accompanist and vocal coach Cristiano Manzoni, the impact of a song rests on every syllable.

“A sound without the grips of the words is nothing,” he said. “If the composer put a note down there, he has a particular effect in mind. A low note, you feel it in your chest. A high note, you feel it in your head.”

Manzoni has nearly 30 years of experience as an accompanying pianist for opera, operettas and theatrical comedies. He’s accompanied world-renowned opera singers like Andrea Bocelli, Katia Ricciarelli and Maria Dragoni. He also has a passion for sharing his knowledge in the form of master courses for the next generation of performers.

“It’s a mission for me,” Manzoni said. “It’s about exchanging experiences. My goal is to help them understand what I have learned over so many years.”

When he isn’t traveling the world, Manzoni is a professor at the Accademia Europea di Firenze, Elon’s study abroad partner in Florence, Italy. Every fall and spring, Elon sends students and faculty to AEF to learn and teach a variety of topics. Elon music and performing arts students who travel to Florence take part in voice or instrumental lessons while learning to speak Italian, but this Winter Term, the lessons have come to them.

Manzoni is at Elon to teach a Winter Term course on the interpretation of Italian vocal literature. Each day during the three-week term, Manzoni works individually with students, helping them perfect a selection of Italian arias and songs. The group’s work is not only centered on hitting the right notes, but also on the literature and historical context that driving each piece.

“Our students have musically prepared their songs and arias, and they work on their vocal technique, but Cristiano makes all of this so much more meaningful through his emphasis on the nuance of the Italian language,” said Hallie Hogan, associate professor of music and chair of the Department of Music. “It requires a real understanding of the relationship between text and music to become a consummate singing artist.”

Manzoni’s visit to campus came to life during Senior Lecturer in Music Polly Cornelius’ summer opera workshop at AEF in Florence. The program gives Elon students the opportunity to receive private opera lessons from Manzoni and Cornelius and perform in productions with a professional opera company.

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Stephanie Ainsworth ’21, a music theater major, traveled to Florence last summer for the workshop because she wanted to supplement her stage work with classical voice training.

“I learned to appreciate it so much more because it’s so different than what I’m used to, but it grounds you more in your technique,” Ainsworth said. “I feel like I can carry those lessons with me in other things I do, whether performing, singing or even just speaking.”

With the success of the program, Cornelius knew she wanted other students to have those same opportunities in Elon.

Janelle Deal ’21 sings during her vocal coaching session with Cristiano Manzoni.

“It’s great for the students who did not have the chance to go to Italy and for the ones who did to see Cristiano again,” Cornelius said. “There’s no comparison to working with someone who speaks the native language. He is challenging the students to become more fluent and embrace the Italian bel canto method of singing.”

Cornelius says she has noticed musical and technical growth during the first few weeks of Manzoni’s visit to Elon. The on-campus opportunity has been especially valuable to David D’Ardenne ’22, a cinema and music performance double major who hopes to pursue a performance career after graduation.

“It will help me because I now know more about my voice and the technique of it because of him,” D’Ardenne said. “I have actually taken more initiative to finding out more about the science behind all of it, so this has really helped me a lot.”

Cristiano Manzoni (left) coaches David D’Ardenne ’22 during a session in Manzoni’s Winter Term course in Whitley Auditorium.

Manzoni says the opportunity to share his knowledge and experiences with students means just as much as his experiences traveling the world and performing wiht some of the greatest artists in opera. He says he would not have reached his goals without the help of others who once shared with him. Now he has the opportunity to see his lessons shape the next generation of performers.

“Oh, I get excited,” he said. “I get excited because it means a lot to me. That’s my goal is for students to understand.”

Students will perform their work in front of an audience at Whitley Auditorium for the course’s final exam. The concert, which will feature performances by students and faculty accompanied by Manzoni, is Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m., with a reception following at LaRose Student Commons. The public is welcome to attend.

In exchange for Manzoni’s visit to Elon, the university will also share its musical expertise with students in Florence. Professor of Music, Artist-in-Residence and celebrated jazz artist Jon Metzger will teach a jazz methods course to students at AEF this summer. The experience will be open to Elon students studying abroad as well as students based in Florence.

For more information about the Elon Department of Music, click here.